Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ancient Writers Who Mention Jesus

Many people aren't aware of just how much evidence there is for Jesus in ancient documents outside the New Testament. In fact, considering that he was to all appearances just a wandering peasant teacher in a backwater of the Roman empire the evidence for Jesus is quite good.

Here are some of the main documents (A growing collection):

Julius Africanus
Thallos (fl. AD 55) Roman Historian, as cited by Julius Africanus (c. AD 160-c. 240) Christian Historian (translated by Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary)
“In the third [book] of his histories, Thallos calls this darkness [at the death of Jesus] an eclipse of the sun, which seems to me to be wrong.” (Jesus Outside the New Testament, pg. 20, Robert E. Van Voorst, William B Eerdmans Publishing, © 2000)

Flavius Josephus (AD 37-c. 100) Jewish Historian (translated by Paul L. Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University)
Jesus (Longer Version)
“About this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was the achiever of extraordinary deeds and was a teacher of those who accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When he was indicted by the principal men among us and Pilate condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him originally did not cease to do so; for he appeared to them on the third day restored to life, as the prophets of the Deity had foretold these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” (Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, 63, from Josephus: The Essential Writings, pg. 265, translated by Paul L. Maier, Kregel Publications, © 1988)

Jesus (Agapius Version)
“At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” (Ibid, pg. 264)

[Note on the Agapius version: “Although the passage is so worded [as in the first version given above] as early as Eusebius (c. AD 324), scholars have long suspected a Christian interpolation, since Josephus would not have believed Jesus to be the Messiah or in his resurrection and have remained, as he did, a non-Christian Jew. In 1972, however, Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem announced his discovery of an Arabic manuscript by the tenth-century Melkite historian Agapius, in which this Josephan passage is expressed in a manner appropriate to a Jew, and which corresponds so precisely to previous scholarly projections of what Josephus originally wrote that it is substituted in the text above. While the final sentence is not in Agapius, Pines justifiably concludes that it was in the original Josephan text.]

The Stoning of James
“The younger Ananus, however, was rash and followed the Sadducees, who are heartless when they sit in judgment. Ananus thought that with Festus dead and Albinus still on the way, he would have his opportunity. Convening the judges of the Sanhedrin, he brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death.

“The people of Jerusalem who were considered the most fair minded and strict in observing the law were offended by this. They secretly urged King Agrippa to order Ananus to desist from any further actions of this sort.” (Antiquities of the Jews, XX, 200-201, from Josephus: The Essential Writings, pg. 276, translated by Paul L. Maier, Kregel Publications, © 1988)

Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD c. 55-c. 117) Roman Historian (Translated by Michael Grant, Historian, President and Vice-Chancellor of the Queen’s University of Belfast)
“But, neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire [i.e., the great fire which burned down much of Rome] had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital.

“First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned – not so much for incendiarism as for their anti-social tendencies (or, ‘because the human race detested them.’ Latin: ‘odio hunani generis’). Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals’ skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight. Nero provided his Gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited displays in the Circus, at which he mingled with the crowd – or stood in a chariot, dressed as a charioteer. Despite their guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved, the victims were pitied. For it was felt that they were being sacrificed to one man’s brutality rather than to the national interest.” (The Annals of Imperial Rome, XV, 44, (pp. 365-366), translated by Michael Grant, Penguin Books, © 1971 [1981 ed.])

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 70-c. 140) Roman historian.  (Translated by J. C. Rolfe)

Disturbance During Claudius’ Reign
“He [Emperor Claudius] allowed the people of Ilium perpetual exemption from tribute, on the ground that they were the founders of the Roman race, reading an ancient letter of the Senate and people of Rome written in Greek to king Seleucus, in which they promised him their friendship and alliance only on condition that he should keep their kinsfolk of Ilium free from every burden. Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Latin, ‘Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit’), he expelled them from Rome. He allowed the envoys of the Germans to sin in the orchestra, led by their naïve self-confidence.” (The Lives of the Caesars, Claudius 25, translated by J. C. Rolfe, from The New Testament Background: Selected Documents, pg. 14, ed. by C. K. Barrett, Harper & Row San Francisco, Revised edition ©1987)

Christians Punished by Nero
“During [Nero’s] reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer laws were made: a limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale. Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people.” (Ibid, Nero 16, pg. 16)

Pliny the Younger (c. AD 61-c. 113), Roman civil servant and writer, governor of Pontus-Bithynia from AD 111-113. Book 10, Letter 96 of his Letters (translated by Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary)
“Since I have begun to deal with this problem, the charges have become more common and are increasing in variety, as often happens. An anonymous accusatory pamphlet has been circulated containing the names of many people. I decided to dismiss any who denied that they are or ever have been Christians when they repeated after me a formula invoking the gods and made offerings of wine and incense to your image, which i had ordered to be brought with the images of the gods into court for this reason, and when they reviled (or “spoke ill of,” or “cursed”) Christ. I understand that no one who is really a Christian can be made to do these things.

“Other people, whose names were given to me by an informer, first said that they were Christians and then denied it. They said that they had stopped being Christians to or more years ago, and some more than twenty. They all venerated your image and the images of the gods as the others did, and reviled Christ. They also maintained that the sum total of their guilt or error was no more than the following. They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a god. They also took an oath not for any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery, and adultery, not to break any promise, and not to withhold a deposit when reclaimed.” (Jesus Outside the New Testament, pg. 25, Robert E. Van Voorst, William B Eerdmans Publishing, © 2000)

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